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Why do GP100's always seem to be "second" choice?

This is a discussion on Why do GP100's always seem to be "second" choice? within the Ruger Double Action forums, part of the Pistol & Revolver Forum category; For me, the older S&W revolvers (made pre 1980s) were well made, attractive, and good shooters and I prefer them to the Ruger offerings. New ...

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Old October 18th, 2013, 08:08 AM   #46
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For me, the older S&W revolvers (made pre 1980s) were well made, attractive, and good shooters and I prefer them to the Ruger offerings. New S&W wheel guns are another matter with their internal locks, MIM parts, and perceived loss of quality. The Ruger GP100 has held its ground in reputation and quality bringing it up to or surpassing the S&W offerings. I love my old Smiths but the GP100 would be my 1st choice if I was in the market for a top quality .357 revolver in todays market. I do not say this because this is a Ruger forum but because my 40 years experience with revolvers leads me to this conclusion.

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Old October 18th, 2013, 10:39 AM   #47
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There's an old saying ... "ignorance is bliss". In this case, how revolvers are designed really applies. Let's start with a history lesson.

Prior to the 70's, most cops carried a S&W 38 Special revolver ... Model 10s being the most popular. All S&W revolvers were hand fitted and indeed were precision ... both in function and accuracy. S&W's K-frame 38 Specials were the best bang for the buck for decades and would hold up to 10's of thousands of rounds of 38 Special ammo. Along came the demand for 357 Mag revolvers. S&W's N-frame revolvers were just too big and heavy so S&W modified their existing K-frames and came up with a Model 19 (later a Mod 66 in stainless steel). These revolvers held up well with 38 Special ammo but had a very high failure rate with 357 Mag ammo. This was due to two main issues ... the lower part of the barrel was cut away to allow room for the cylinder yoke causing barrels to crack at the mouth. The yoke tube was too thin and would peen with 357 Mags, causing excessive endshake.

Meantime (starting in 1972), the new kid on the block (Sturm Ruger), introduced their K-frame sized 357 Mag revolver ... the Security-Six (Speed-Six and Service-Six in the same family). Ruger used many of the S&W design features but built the crane (yoke) in such a manner where the barrel was full sized inside the frame and had a much thicker crane tube. These major design changes allowed Security-Sixes to hold up to a steady diet of 357 Magnums, even with the pre-'95 SAAMI 43.5k psi standards. The Security-Six family of revolvers had a full sized grip frame and a cylinder mounting system much like S&W revolvers.

In the early 80's, S&W came up with a new design that fixed the K-frame barrel cracking problem ... a slightly larger L-frame design called a Mod 586 (blued) and Mod 686 (stainless), however this new design still had the same skinny yoke tube as a K-frame that would not hold up to 357 Mag chamber pressures. By 1995, S&W's K-frame and L-frame 357 Mags failure rate was so high that S&W petitioned SAAMI to lower the chamber pressure specs by 25% (from 43,500 to 35,000 psi). Turned out, Mod 19s and 66s still wouldn't hold up to the lower SAAMI pressures so S&W discontinued all K-frame 357 Mag revolvers.

S&W has always been notorious for "engineering changes" as noted by their dash number (ie 686-1 was the first engineering change to the basic 686). The 586/686 no-dash and -1 models were recalled for inferior firing pin bushings that would recess with magnum ammo and allow the primer to back out and hang up on the recoil shield. This was fixed with an engineering change (dash 2), however S&W also changed the fixed hand (Ruger calls it a pawl) to a "floating hand". Floating hands caused a high failure rate so S&W did another engineering change (-3) and went back to the fixed hand. A dash 2 with the floating hand replaced with a fixed hand or the -3 were the very best 586/686s that S&W ever made. The dash 4 engineering change was a goofy ejector (star wheel) plus S&W went from nice Gonco Alves wood target grips to cheap Houge grips. The dash 4 was the last decent model because -5s and beyond had MIM hammers & triggers plus S&W went to the in-frame firing pin, replacing the hammer nose firing pin that was a proven design used for 100 years. All 586/686 revolvers up to a -4 were all hand fitted ... very precision, however after MIM parts started being used (-5 and after) revolvers were assembled, not fitted .... so quality and precision went down the tubes. In all, assuming the factory "M" recall modification was done (no-dash and -1) and a fixed hand was installed (-2), all 586/686's from a no-dash to a dash 4 were excellent revolvers, provided pre-'95 high pressure loads were not used.

In 1986, Ruger introduced the GP-100 to compete with S&W's L-frame 586/686. The GP-100 was nearly identical in size, profile, and weight as the S&W 586/686 with the same barrel length, however it had many features that were not available from S&W. Ruger had planned to keep the Security-Six product line (K-frame sized) but after two years, sales had dropped off so much that Ruger discontinued the Security-Six. By eliminating the full sized grip frame and making the cylinder and the frame larger, Ruger was able to maintain the GP-100's weight about the same as a Security-Six (within 2 oz, assuming the same barrel length). The GP-100 was designed to handle high pressure pre-'95 357 Magnum ammo with ease. It had a much improved cylinder retention design and a much better trigger spring design plus a more massive frame. Additionally, GP-100s had a "plug-in" front sight that could be changed in seconds with a red insert or other types of front sights. Try that with a S&W! The "grip stud" that eliminated the full sized grip frame allowed the shooter to tailor grips to their hand size, especially if they had smaller hands where compact grips fit better. This feature is not possible with a S&W or even a Security-Six because of their full sized grip frame.

So here's how they stack up ... a new Ruger GP-100 versus a new S&W Mod 686:

Cost: S&W 686 MSRP is $829, GP-100 (stainless steel) MSRP is $759.
Strength: Both have about the same life expectancy with 38 Special ammo, however GP-100s have a much longer life expectancy with 357 Mag ammo... at least double.
Front sight: Ruger's plug-in front sight (not available with fixed sight models) can be changed in seconds. The pinned front sight on fixed sight model can also be changed but it requires more work. S&W front sights are not removable without major expense and the services of a good gunsmith.
Grips: Because of the grip stud design, GP-100s will accommodate virtually any size grips. 686s have a full sized grip frame making smaller grips virtually impossible. Both models have excellent aftermarket support for grips.
Trigger pull: Out of the box, 686s typically have a smoother and lighter DA and SA trigger pull. 686s use a leaf spring for the hammer, which is more linear. GP-100s have a coil hammer spring that stacks near the end of the DA trigger stroke. Some people prefer the "stacking feel" of a GP-100, whereas other prefer the "straight through" feel of a 686. An inexpensive spring kit and a little buffing in the right spots can make a GP-100's trigger pull just as good as a 686.
Accuracy: Both brands are equally accurate. Some people shoot one brand better than the other but that is more a matter of personal preference than reality.
Fit and finish: Older 686s had a much better fit and finish, however newer models compare about the same as a GP-100.
Function: Both brands function nearly identical. The only minor difference is the cylinder lock where the GP-100's lock is pressed in and a 686 lock is pushed forward.
Capacity: GP-100s (in 357 Mag) are restricted to 6 rounds whereas 686 Plus models can hold 7 rounds (6 round capacity is normal).
Safety: S&W uses an internal hammer block to prevent the revolver from firing when dropped. Ruger uses a transfer bar that accomplishes the same mission ... no appreciable difference.

I own a bunch of older S&W revolvers to include a 4" 686-2 with the floating hand replaced. I also own a 4" GP-100 in stainless steel that had a full action job. In all honesty, there's very little difference in these two revolvers, however I wouldn't own a newer 686 (-5 or later). Feature wise, the GP-100 is far more robust which IMO, makes it a much better buy.
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Old October 18th, 2013, 04:21 PM   #48
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There you have it, folks.

My WC trigger does not stack. Why is that? Or maybe I'm a smasher and can't tell the difference. Hmmm...
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Old October 18th, 2013, 05:32 PM   #49
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Originally Posted by Hawkingcolorado View Post
When I was researching a new 357 revolver, seems like the 686 was "the gun" to get over the GP100...Despite some of the final conclusions on the 2 revolvers being pretty much equal... Why is this?
I think people believe the 686 is more attractive.
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Old October 18th, 2013, 06:48 PM   #50
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Iowegan-- Thanks for the history! Well written and informative.

I agree that the GP offers a better bang for your buck over the 686.
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Old October 18th, 2013, 07:00 PM   #51
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thank you lowegan for the history lesson, interesting to know the differences of the dash numbers for the smiths, should I ever run into a used one ill know now better what I am looking at, love my GP solid like a tank!
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Old October 18th, 2013, 08:43 PM   #52
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I concur with what others have said. Great info Iowegan. Thank you.

I personally sold off all my Smiths and am very much enjoying my Rugers with plans to add several more.

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Old October 18th, 2013, 10:43 PM   #53
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I don't feel that the GP100's are a second choice, it's a matter of personal opinions & features. My first double action .357 was a Security Six, which I feel that Ruger should have kept making. I do like the older S&W's better I have had Model 28's a Model 27 that I wished I would have kept. Had a Model 19 nice gun that I traded for a S&W Model 17 that I still have. For smaller .357's the S&W J frames don't compare just my opinion to the SP 101 in any way. My current .357's are a Ruger Vaquero Bisely .357 stainless steel with a 5.5 barrel this gun is so sweet. Also been wanting one of these for years about 5 years ago I was able to swap trade for a S&W Model 66-1 or no 1 can't remember but this gun is one of the early Model 66's because both the front & rear sights are stainless steel. This gun I can shoot it all day long & enjoy it when I run .38's thru it. My CCW gun is a Taurus Model 605 has some good quality features about it. Not like the SP 101 but still a nice gun. My 4th .357 is a Marlin 1894CB rifle a early model with the 24 inch hexogonal barrel. One thing that has been mentioned in this thread is yes S&W has been around longer then Ruger. I feel the build quality on the Ruger GP 100's is top rate very nice. The one SP 100 I would really like to get if money wasn't a issue would be the Wiley Clapp 3 inch version really beautiful gun. I think the 7 shot GP 100 in .327 Federal Mag . Is a sweet gun but the ammo is very pricey & hard to find. Probably just for shear enjoyment my S&W 66 & Ruger Vaquero Bisley both guns are just a pleasure to shoot. My Vaquero is a original larger model not the new model. This is one model like the security six Ruger should have kept making. Nothing wrong with the GP 100's we all have our favorite guns. I feel that the GP 100 is not second to any gun.
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Old October 20th, 2013, 03:09 PM   #54
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I chose the GP-100 when I bought my first .357 and have to say I'm very pleased. I shot it from 15, 25 and 55 yards using hand loads which resulted in a 4 inch group
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Old October 20th, 2013, 04:28 PM   #55
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My first duty gun was a 686. That was in 1992.
Since then I have owned dozens of pistols and revolvers.
The ones I have had the most problems with have all been S&W revolvers. Performance Center guns in particular. S&W always took care of the problems and I still liked their products until I bought a 327 M&P R8 recently. S&W refused to acknowledge anything was wrong with the revolver. I sold it at a loss and I will not own anything new from S&W for quite some time.
There has been one revolver that has stayed with me longer than any other firearm. One that I have never even considered selling or trading in 18 years now. I am wearing it now and wore today off duty.
A 4 inch stainless GP100
It doesn't do any one thing better than any other handgun I have owned. It is more a totality of all the features for me.
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Old October 20th, 2013, 04:55 PM   #56
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I have had -2 S&W's 686 and a 629, fine guns in every way. They were early 80's models, wish I never sold them. Went shopping a couple of weeks ago with money in pocket to buy a smith. Handled the new gp100, fit and finish, trigger pull, single and double were great. I came home with the ruger. I still go to the safe and dry fire, WOW. Took the gun apart to see where if any cost cutting was done, found it to be very well made inside and out.
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Old October 20th, 2013, 08:14 PM   #57
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FWIW Ruger is using MIM triggers and possibly now hammers in the GP100, which don't mean a hill of beans to me, I would still buy a brand new one.

The IL caused many people to avoid new S&W revolvers.....S&W could care less because they sell boatloads of M&P's; Bodyguards and Shields and their revolver fan base is a small portion of their profits.

Ruger never neglects their wheel guns and is adding more to their catalog.

I wish Ruger would make the 4" fixed sight GP a standard catalog item again but I don't blame them for only making batches of them now, the market for them has dried up since no US LE agencies and almost no security companies order them anymore.
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Old October 20th, 2013, 09:53 PM   #58
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FWIW Ruger is using MIM triggers and possibly now hammers in the GP100, which don't mean a hill of beans to me, I would still buy a brand new one.
One of SP had an MIM hammer and trigger and I did not like it (I kept the one without the MIM). The MIM hammer had shallow spurs for gripping in SA mode. Easy for your thumb to slip if you didn't push real hard. Even worse if you were out hiking and your hand got sweaty. Not a good design IMO.
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Old October 21st, 2013, 05:07 AM   #59
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Years ago when I got my GP, the out of box Smiths trigger was much better. I can't speak about more recent production but my older GP has a great trigger now. It smoothed out by sending rounds down range.
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Old October 25th, 2013, 05:20 PM   #60
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Old 686's have good fit and finish. New 686's have MIM crud, sometimes are poorly built, have the Clinton LOCK and the fragile frame mounted firing pin. Don't forget the propensity for S&W firing pins to break from dry fire (even with Snap Caps).

My Rugers have held up so far. I have one Smith Model 24-3 down with a broken hammer nose. I keep breaking frame mounted firing pins on my Smiths.

Production Rugers are just better. Now if Ruger would just chamfer the charge holes.
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